Oregon State University is part of a 17-institution consortium that will share a grant of $9 million to study late blight, one of the world’s most significant diseases, which affects potatoes and tomatoes. The institutions are in the United States, Mexico and Scotland.

As part of the study, OSU will receive $789,542 over the next five years.

"Late blight is a significant disease of potatoes, which is the world's largest non-cereal crop, and a tomato pest," said Niklaus Grunwald, a U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist who has a courtesy appointment in OSU’s Department of Botany and Plant Pathology. "The plan is to reduce fungicide use and costs for growers and to find long-term controls of late blight."

The grant, funded by the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, is designed to develop diagnostic tools, grow disease-resistant plants through breeding and biotechnology, and improve management for growers.

Challenges loom, said Grunwald, one of the researchers on the project. Genes that were thought to be resistant to late blight have failed, and strains of the disease have appeared that are not sensitive to fungicide. "There may not be one solution to late blight," he said.

However, the grant's design combining research, education and extension will direct growers to a late blight website and strengthen communication between researchers and growers. Its reporting and alert system will help growers make science-based decisions, Grunwald said.

A 10-week summer research program for undergraduate students, funded by the grant, aims to help boost the number of skilled plant pathologists.

The grant was awarded through the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. The long-term goal is to strengthen global food availability through increased food production and reduced losses.